As the end of June approaches many festival goers get excited for their big festival of the year – Glastonbury. For us we now get excited for the following weekend and the Blissfields party. This for many years has to be our favourite venture of the Summer, although a relatively small festival it is one of the highlights of the festival calendar and the place to be if you want to see who is going to be big in the next couple of years, with acts such as Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling and Jake bug appearing early afternoon before hitting the big time.
Unofficially Blissfields has always been the festival where the sun has had an open invitation and we’ve enjoyed some baking hot weekends in the past. However with a biblical downpour hitting Glastonbury and the rest of the UK in the last couple of weeks, it looked like we might have our first truly wet festival. Arriving on site it seemed that our fears mat have been realized, as the first thing we saw pulling into the car park was mud – causing headaches for both the stewards and attendees as they struggled to get past the entrance and into the clearer fields beyond. Fortunately once we’d negotiated the entrances, the site was in pretty good condition, and while a few tracks had suffered on the whole the site is looking well covered and green. And the damp ground meant we had no problem pitching our tent on the spacious campsite.
This year the organisers have given the site it’s first makeover in a few years, moving the entrance to the arena closer to the car parks and second camping field, and changing the entrance to the hub of Blissfields nightlife – the Hidden Hedge, while the childrens field and second stage have moved into the far end of the field, taking over some of the old camp site.
For a small festival (4,500 capacity), Blissfields packs a big punch boasting five stages – the main (Manor) stage; two tented stages (The Den and The Larch); the Blisscoteque – a double decker bus which hosts DJs and MCs; and the aforementioned Hidden Hedge. On Thursday all bar the main stage are open, providing the early campers a chance to ease themselves into the weekend ahead.
After catching a very good sets from protest singer Will Varley, who woke up the crowd his angry philosophical musings, counterpointed nicely with a far gentler set by Josh McCormick in the Larch our plans for the evening were held up by a power failure in the Den which meant that we were left hanging about, but after a lot of running around from men in shorts and boots bearing tools, things got underway and Beatboxing bluesman Son Of Dave finally took to the stage with a shortened but fantastic set. Equally fantastic but quite baffling at times was The Church – a group that take the US-style hellfire and brimstone gospel routine and turn it on it’s head to produce a parody that brings to mind the Cuban Brothers.
After a typically boisterous set from rappers Too Many T's, tonight’s headliner Molotov Jukebox finished the first evening. Lead singer Natalia Tena is probably better know for her roles in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, but she is also an accomplished musician who, along with the rest of the group delivered a sound that, while holding a large debt to Gogol Bordello, sounded fresh and energetic and brought the packed tent to life, a very good start to the weekend.
Friday sees the festival kick off properly, and as is a recurring theme for the day it opens with rain showers, which while heavy clear away quite quickly for a mall burst of sunshine. Fortunately the rain showers don’t get strong enough to cause too many problems on the site which while a bit muddy around the pinch-points remains pretty good elsewhere.
Opening main stage is Isaac Gracie, whose folk-rock eased us into the afternoon. The site seemed to then be ready for a bit of rock as the sun came out! With rock band The Big Moon on the Manor stage and Bullybones in the Larch the whole site was rocking. As always happens when the sun comes comes out , the festival comes into its own alive with colour, and you can see how much effort has gone into the site and areas.
Blissfields is very much a family orientated festival, and Angel Gardens provides an area dedicated for the very young festival goers. With themed workshops and activities the children are occupied and the parents get a bit of time to chill. This year's big feature being the spider web – a large cylinder for the children to climb their way up through cargo nets , but most of them were choosing to stay at the lower level with the trampoline.
There are many areas of the festival that can be overlooked as the new layout seems to compartmentalise the festival far more than previous years – something that actually seems to improve the festival, as despite still being quite a small site, gives it a far bigger feel. New areas for this year include a beach – something that seems to be a growing trend at festivals, and although is seemed that the games area that had been a familiar sight in the centre of the arena in previous years have gone, but it still lives on in The Backyard.
After a couple of very chilled sets from Billie Marten, and Frances on the Main stage, it fell to Melt Yourself Down to try and wake them up again – something I had high hopes for, having seen them lift a crowd on the previous occasions. I don’t know whether it was the weather but they just seems to be unable to draw the crowd out. It certainly wasn’t them as a band as the show they but on was as good as ever. Perhaps it was the break between acts that just saw people wander off - I don’t know what the issues were but Melt Yourself Down were one of several acts that seemed to have abnormally long sound checks and starting 15-20 minutes late seemed to be a regular feature.
After another downpour and an inevitable delay, Honne took to the stage and bought the sunshine with them, unlike the previous act they seemed to be able to gather the support of the crowd enjoyed their almost waxy smooth lyrics and electro-soul sound.
After a very short set (sound checks again) from Swim Deep which was just a little like the weather and not fantastic. Headlining the Manor tonight are Everything Everything , who did just what they do, with frontman Jonathan Higgs falsetto vocal sounding pretty good over the mix of indie and electronic provided by the rest of the band.
Like most festivals worth their salt, when the main stage closes the rest of the festival is still going strong and while some headed off to the Hidden Hedge or Blisscoteque bus to dance till the fell down, we headed over to The Larch for it’s late night show. One of the great things about Blissfields is that while you may not know most of the bands, you have the opportunity to discover new ones. This was the case with Drones Club, whose mix of techno and groggy guitars bought to mind the best of Spiritualised and Underworld. This was matched with a minimal but atmospheric light show, with outfits and performances that at times reminded me of a live-action zombie apocalypse evening I was involved with last year. All together this produced a captivating performance that was one of the stand-out shows of the day, if not the weekend.
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